The current sell-off may end up emboldening the bulls, if the last tech bubble is a guide


The bubble isn’t burst yet.


Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Traders at the moment seem to have as much patience with tech stocks as Kansas City Chiefs fans do for a moment of unity.

Thursday was the fourth ugly finish in five sessions, with the Nasdaq Composite
COMP,
-1.99%

skidding 2%, and the other major indexes backtracking as well.

Andrea Cicione, head of strategy at independent investment research firm TS Lombard, said excessive leverage in the market really began in earnest in July. Cicione added that was occurring in U.S. stocks wasn’t happening anywhere else in the world.

And while he’s seeing signs of a bubble, he thinks if the selling doesn’t intensify, the bubble may reflate soon.

“The leverage accumulation so far may not be enough to burst the bubble just yet,” he writes. “If the recent selloff does not intensify further, the whole episode may end up simply emboldening the bulls to buy the dip and take even more risk.”

Between 1997 and 1998, the Nasdaq experienced three sell-offs of at least 17%, only to emerge stronger and rise four-fold to the 2000 peak. “Leverage is a key characteristic of all bubbles, and almost invariably it is the mechanism that leads to their collapse. But there may not have been enough leverage for the dot-com 2.0 bubble to burst just yet,” he says.

The reason leverage is important in bursting bubbles is because it uniquely can lead to forced unwinding. “When faced with margin calls they cannot meet, investors may have to liquidate positions against their will. The resulting fall in prices can instil doubts in the mind of others, persuading them to sell,” he said.

The buzz

Consumer price data for August is due at 8:30 a.m. Eastern.

The quarterly services survey and August budget deficit are also due for release. The Congressional Budget Office, which typically gets the budget picture pretty close to the mark, estimated the August deficit was $198 billion, and said the September-ending fiscal year gap will be the highest relative to the economy since 1945.

Database software giant Oracle
ORCL,
+0.66%

topped earnings and revenue expectations, helped by revenue from key client Zoom Video Communications
ZM,
-1.32%
.
Oracle also declined to discuss whether it will buy the U.S. operations of social-media company TikTok, as U.S. President Donald Trump said Thursday there will be no extension of the Sept. 15 deadline for it to be sold to a U.S. company or shut.

Peloton Interactive
PTON,
-3.75%
,
the exercise bicycle company, reported stronger-than-forecast fiscal fourth-quarter earnings and revenue, with its current year outlook also well ahead of estimates.

Jean-Sébastien Jacques, the chief executive of mining giant Rio Tinto
RIO,
-1.67%
,
announced he will resign in March following the controversy over the firm blowing up ancient caves while excavating for iron ore.

Thursday marked the first day since spring when new coronavirus cases in the European Union and the U.K. exceeded the United States.

The market

U.S. stock futures
ES00,
+0.65%

NQ00,
+0.64%

were stronger.

Gold futures
GCZ20,
-0.46%

fell while oil futures
CL.1,
+0.21%

edged higher.

The British pound
GBPUSD,
+0.18%

continues to reel from its more combative stance taken against the European Union in trade negotiations.

The chart

This incredible UBS illustration of Tesla
TSLA,
+1.38%

shows how shares have performed compared to other tech giants since joining the $100 billion market cap club. It took Apple
AAPL,
-3.26%
,
Alphabet
GOOGL,
-1.36%

and Facebook
FB,
-2.05%

between 4 to 11 years to achieve what Tesla did in three quarters. UBS increased its Tesla price target to $325 from $160 ahead of the company’s battery day presentation.

Random reads

Here’s the 2010 memo from a venture capital firm on an investment which valued retail software maker Shopify at $25 million. Shopify
SHOP,
-1.59%

is now worth $114 billion.

China said its U.K. ambassador’s Twitter account was hacked — after a steamy post was liked.

An experimental treatment kept mice strong in space, one that could have uses back on Earth.

Need to Know starts early and is updated until the opening bell, but sign up here to get it delivered once to your email box. The emailed version will be sent out at about 7:30 a.m. Eastern.



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Corporate bond issuance off to a bang in September


Corporate borrowing is off to the races.


Getty Images

Companies wasted no time going back to the borrowing trough after the long Labor Day weekend.

U.S. investment-grade companies already borrowed $46.7 billion in the bond market this month through Wednesday, a single day that accounted for $21.3 billion of the total, according to BofA Global Research.

Notable among the week’s deluge was a debut $1 billion green bond issued by JP Morgan Chase & Co.
JPM,
-1.03%
,
putting it alongside other major corporations from Google parent Alphabet
GOOG,
-1.60%

GOOGL,
-1.36%

to Visa Inc.
V,
-1.23%
,
which in recent weeks have raced to borrow with do-good purposes.

September often can be a busy month for corporate borrowing, as companies focus on the remaining weeks left in the year to lock in optimal financing — meaning before Thanksgiving, when the typical year-end lull begins to take hold.

Here’s a look at how September bond issuance stacked up over the past five years:

The pandemic has made this year anything but typical, including with a record $1.5 trillion already borrowed by investment-grade companies so far in 2020 to help fund their operations through the year’s end.

Many highly rated businesses borrowed fresh mounds of debt at lower rates than ever before, even though they are now carrying record levels of leverage.

Read: U.S. corporate debt soars to record $10.5 trillion

However, with the Federal Reserve’s unprecedented pandemic support, there’s little reason to think big businesses have had enough of today’s ultra-low borrowing rates.

“It’s a very busy September,” said Wendy Wyatt, a portfolio manager at DuPont Capital, of investment-grade bond supply. While she doesn’t expect to see the same eye-popping borrowing boom as in March, April and May, when companies were panic-borrowing, Wyatt has been encouraged by the recent trend where bond issuance has been used by more companies to kick their debts down the road or to repay near-term maturities.

“It’s not hideous. It’s a smart business decision,” she said of the debt replacement or reduction strategy, even through she’s also keeping an eye on companies that look to take on more debt to fund mergers and acquisitions.

“M&A has picked up and you’ve got to be cautious about that,” she said.

Related: Coronavirus slashes deal-making globally: What to expect next

To be sure, some of the big winners of the pandemic debt boom have been investment banks hired to arrange the funding.

Revenue at investment banks jumped 32% to $101.6 billion in the year’s first half from a year prior, its highest level since the first half of 2012, according to Coalition, a global analytics company.

What’s more, Coalition expects the year’s swift uptick in investment banking business, particularly in fixed-income, currencies and commodities, to combine with further head-count reductions at banks and produce an 12% return on equity for institutions it tracks in its index.

That would mark a significant reversal of a trend where ROE for banks in the index have declined each year since 2016, when it hit 9.5%.



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After U.S. tech gains, European stocks pause as ECB decision awaits


(FILES) This file photo taken on March 12, 2020 shows flags of the European Union fluttering in front of the headquarters of the European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany.


daniel roland/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

European stocks were steady on Thursday, ahead of a European Central Bank decision and press conference in which expectations are for the central bank to raise concerns about the rise of the euro.

Up 1.6% on Wednesday, the Stoxx Europe 600
SXXP,
+0.16%

was little moved at 369.70.

U.S. stocks, particularly in the tech sector, broke a losing run on Wednesday, as the Nasdaq Composite
COMP,
+2.70%

rallied 2.7%. U.S. stock futures
ES00,
+0.05%

were modestly higher Thursday.

The ECB decision is due at 1:45 p.m. Central European time (7:45 a.m. Eastern), though analysts are focusing on the press conference with President Christine Lagarde at 2:30 p.m.

Attention also is in London, where an emergency meeting is being called on the U.K. decision to unilaterally amend its withdrawal agreement. Bloomberg News reported the European Union was considering a lawsuit.

Wm Morrison Supermarkets
MRW,
-3.51%

slumped 3.7% after reporting a 25% slump in first-half adjusted pretax profits, with the company flagging higher costs and reduced consumer demand for fuel. “Some traders will be wondering if Morrisons can’t post a rise in profit when a pandemic has driven up demand, when will they register a rise in earnings,” said David Madden, market analyst at CMC Markets UK.

Chemicals group Akzo Nobel
AKZA,
+3.47%

rose 4% as the company said revenue for the third quarter will be close to last year’s levels. It reported strong decorative paint demand in Europe and South America.

Games Workshop
GAW,
+13.92%
,
which makes miniature wartime figures, jumped 13% after saying its performance for the quarter ending Aug. 30 was ahead of its expectation



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JP Morgan enters green bond push with $1 billion debut debt deal


The San Francisco skyline is obscured in orange haze Wednesday.


AFP/Getty Images

JP Morgan Chase & Co. entered the green-bond world on Wednesday, offloading the bank’s first set of bonds specifically to fund projects with a sustainability bent.

While the banking giant has arranged debt with an environmental or social-good purpose for its clients and other companies, this was JP Morgan’s first $1 billion foray into issuing such bonds on its own behalf.

Many investors welcomed the move, not only because of the weight JP Morgan
JPM,
+0.95%

carries in the market as the nation’s biggest U.S. bank by assets, but also because of a growing acceptance within the U.S. that a climate crisis threatens both environmental and financial instability.

Read: CFTC’s groundbreaking climate-change report sounds a bipartisan alarm on costly risks for U.S. financial system

JP Morgan’s bond deal hit as wildfires raged along the West Coast, with smoke from fires shrouding the San Francisco Bay Area on Wednesday in an eerie orange haze and underscoring how climate change threatens to make extreme fire events, power outages and forced evacuations the norm.

“The more the larger players come along, the larger the scale to move things along faster,” said Steve Liberatore, Nuveen’s lead portfolio manager for environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria and impact investments.

But Liberatore also stressed that a key part of tackling the unfolding “climate disaster” is to mitigate it in an “economically beneficial way for the average person.”

That can mean achieving a lower cost of capital for renewable energy projects than what’s available for funding fossil fuels.

To that end, JP Morgan was able to pull in pricing Wednesday amid high investor demand, clearing the bonds at a spread of 48 basis points over Treasurys BX:TMUBMUSD10Y, after they initially were floated in the range of 65 basis points.

A bond spread is the level of compensation investors get paid above a risk-free benchmark to act as a creditor, with lower spreads often indicating high demand or a lower expectation of default.

“Generally, green bonds yield less, meaning the cost of financing is lower,” said Pri de Silva, senior corporate credit analysts at Aware Asset Management, adding that JP Morgan priced similar bonds in May that were trading on Wednesday closer to 58 basis points over Treasurys.

“From a funding perspective, I’d say there was a 10-basis-point advantage,” de Silva said, even though he noted the “sunk costs” involved in setting up the new green issuance platform, including providing the “belts and suspenders” to ensure there’s a process in place to track that only eligible projects are funded.

To that end, JP Morgan said proceeds from the debut green bond would finance a range of projects from green buildings to renewable energy, in a public filing.

Notably, the bank also listed areas that will be excluded from the funding from bond proceeds, including coal, oil, gas and nuclear energy projects, as well as activities that involve modern slavery, child labor and human rights exploitation.

Amid an overall corporate debt boom, the second quarter also saw a record $99.9 billion of “sustainability bonds” issued globally, according to Moody’s Investors Service, a category that encompasses green, social and sustainable bonds.

JP Morgan’s debut follows on the heels of Citigroup
C,
+0.70%

and Bank of America
BAC,
+0.11%
,
which issued green and social-good bonds earlier this year.

See: Bank of America sold a first-of-a-kind Covid-19 bond

“Banks are in a unique position to issue green bonds as they are interrelated with the broader economy,” said Brian Ellis, portfolio manager, Calvert Green Bond Fund.

“From an investor’s perspective, growth in green bond issuance provides increased opportunities for portfolio and project diversification, but also the ability to be more selective because there’s a larger group to choose from.”

JP Morgan declined to comment.



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When the Nasdaq has had as ugly a start to September as it just had, it has always finished the month lower


Technology stocks got wrecked Tuesday on Wall Street, and that bodes ill for the rest of the month, according to Dow Jones Market Data.

The decline in the Nasdaq Composite Index
COMP,
-4.11%

pushed the tech-heavy index into a correction, commonly defined as a drop of at least 10%, but no more than 20%, from a recent peak, and reaffirmed the bearish view that tech-related stocks had mounted too brisk a run-up in the aftermath of the worst public-health crisis in a century.

Tuesday’s bitter slump, resulting in a 4.1% drop for the Nasdaq Composite, marked the worst start to the index in September, a notoriously weak month for U.S. equities, on record. The index has sunk 10% over the past three sessions, following a record close Sept. 2.

And the stats for the outlook for the market appear to show that it’s tough for the index to recover from the likes of the downturn it just faced.

When the Nasdaq has previously tumbled by at least 4% in the first five days of September, it has ended lower. The Nasdaq has booked five Septembers since 1974 (not including Tuesday’s drop) in which it registered declines of at least 4%, and in four of those five declines — 1974, 2000, 2001 and 2008 — the equity benchmark added to its losses (see attached chart):


Dow Jones Market Data

To be sure, that’ s hardly a significant sample size, but it’s still a stat worth considering as the market looks to right itself following three withering days for formerly high-flying tech stocks.

The moves by the Nasdaq Composite may also have broader implications for the market as a whole, since buzzy tech-related names like Tesla Inc.
TSLA,
-21.06%
,
Apple Inc.
AAPL,
-6.72%
,
Amazon.com Inc.
AMZN,
-4.39%
,
Facebook Inc.
FB,
-4.09%
,
Google parent Alphabet Inc.
GOOG,
-3.68%

GOOGL,
-3.64%
,
and Netflix Inc.
NFLX,
-1.75%
,
which have represented the handful of mega-capitalization companies that have all helped to power this resurgence in equities in the throes of a pandemic, all are sitting on multiday losing streaks.

Although bullish investors hope that the declines in the index helped to clear away some of the frothiness that had accumulated since the March lows for the stock market, there are some concerns that the tech wreckage could portend longer-term bad news for the Dow Jones Industrial Average
DJIA,
-2.24%

and the S&P 500 index
SPX,
-2.77%
,
which also skidded by more than 2% on Tuesday.



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